UzA Correspondent Gayrat Khonnazarov interviewed the OSCE Secretary General Mrs. Helga Maria Schmid, who paid an official visit to Uzbekistan to participate in two international conferences.
– Dear Mrs. Helga Maria Schmid! It is known that the constructive dialogue between Uzbekistan and the OSCE is becoming more active. As the current head of the organization, what is your general opinion about the work being carried out in cooperation?
– I am very pleased to be back in your beautiful country. I was having fruitful meetings with government officials and civil society here in Uzbekistan. I was also speaking at two very timely events – the International Forum on ensuring children’s rights to a healthy environment and the EU – Central Asia Connectivity Conference.
My visit coincided with the 30th anniversary of Uzbekistan joining the OSCE, which is a significant milestone. Working closely with Uzbekistan’s authorities and civil society we have accomplished a lot to improve the lives and security of the Uzbek people over the past 30 years.
Our field office in Tashkent, with its highly professional and dedicated staff, has implemented hundreds of projects ranging from promoting cyber security and reintegrating the families of foreign terrorist fighters, to fostering sustainable green development and women’s economic empowerment.
To be even more concrete, we provided equipment for the Darknet laboratory at the Academy of the General Prosecutor’s Office and held training courses for law enforcement representatives on cryptocurrencies and Dark Web. Our office in Tashkent is also fostering sustainable green development and supporting women to set up their own businesses.
– As one of the organizers of the international conference dedicated to the 10th anniversary of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy in Central Asia, what can you say about the importance, relevance and results of the conference held in Tashkent?
– I am genuinely grateful to the Government of Uzbekistan for having hosted this high-level event. It is an excellent example of the leadership we need to tackle this major transnational threat.
In the OSCE we always say that security does not stop at the border, it goes beyond. This means we can only combat cross-border threats when we strengthen our co-operation at all levels: international, regional and domestic. It is a challenging task but it is the only way to achieve sustainable security for all.
As the world’s largest regional security organization, the OSCE has an important role to play here, alongside partners such as the UN, the EU and others. The landmark international event you mentioned is a great example of such co-operation.
The Tashkent Declaration and the updated Joint Plan of Action for Central Asia, highlighting the need for a coordinated fight against terrorism, show that we all agree that this grave threat can only be tackled when we all work together.
The OSCE is constantly strengthening its co-operation with governments, civil society and the private sector in the region. We have been working alongside the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) and Interpol, for example, on strengthening the protection of critical infrastructure and vulnerable targets across Central Asia in yet another regional event here in Tashkent, just this week.
And we have joined forces with UN partners as well as the European Union in organizing a high-level event focusing on border security that brought together regional partners in Dushanbe in October this year, responding in particular to the changing situation in Afghanistan.
– How do you evaluate the regional policy of Uzbekistan? In general, how close do you think the efforts, views and approaches of Uzbekistan and the OSCE to ensure global security and stability are?
– I can only commend Uzbekistan’s commitment to deepening regional cooperation and promoting connectivity. It shows readiness and willingness to advance good neighbourly relations and achieve economic prosperity in the region. This is particularly important considering Uzbekistan’s strategic location.
At the OSCE, we very much share this approach and focus on regional co-operation. Our two regional flagship initiatives, the OSCE Academy in Bishkek and our Border Management Staff College in Dushanbe are both based in Central Asia.
The recent security crises are a grim reminder of how vulnerable we all are. So today, when Central Asian countries are faced with a myriad of challenges stemming from both the situation in Afghanistan and Russia’s war against Ukraine, we put even more efforts to pursue new opportunities for connectivity and development in the region.
For instance, the OSCE has been working to strengthen anti-trafficking responses in the region, through simulation-based training exercises. We have been supporting regional co-operation on border security through concrete exercises at borders. And we work on promoting regional solutions to climate change related risks – since climate change doesn’t stop at the border.
– Which other institutions, structures or units of the OSCE have achieved good results in establishing effective cooperation with Uzbekistan and what are the factors of this success?
– The OSCE has a unique set-up with the OSCE Secretariat in Vienna, 12 field operations with wide geographic reach, and our Institutions all working together for the benefit of 1.3 billion people. Even where we don’t have a physical presence, we still make a difference and strengthen stability and security through the work of the Secretariat and the Institutions.
We make the best use of it through our ‘whole-of-OSCE’ approach. This is part of our DNA. We are looking at security with a comprehensive approach. That means it includes not only the political and military aspects, but also environmental and economic issues, and human rights. These three aspects, our three dimensions of security, are all interconnected. That is why we are working with such a broad range of issues, from water safety and border security to addressing human trafficking and threats to media freedom. Only with a comprehensive approach to security can we find sustainable solutions.
But what is even more important, it allows us not only to address the security risks but also tackle their root causes.
– As the head of the OSCE, which of the high-ranking officials of Uzbekistan have you personally met so far and to what extent have the meetings influenced the development of cooperation between the two parties?
– President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov, Chairperson of the Senate Tanzila Narbaeva and the President’s Special Representative on Foreign Affairs Abdulaziz Kamilov were among those I had the privilege to meet during my visit. I also had fruitful discussions with EU colleagues and high-level officials from all Central Asian participating States in Samarkand.
And it has been a great pleasure to be back in Uzbekistan. It is my first visit in my role as the OSCE Secretary General, but I have been working with the country and the region for many years – including in my previous role as Secretary General of the European External Action Service.
Back then, I have been involved in the processes that led to key milestones in EU and Central Asia co-operation. Among those is the first-ever EU-Central Asia strategy that was adopted back in 2007. Later I launched a policy and security dialogue with all five Central Asian countries and Afghanistan at the level of deputy Foreign Ministers that still exists.
– In terms of cooperation with the OSCE, how do you assess the position of Uzbekistan in the region or among the member states of the Organization in general?
– I am really impressed with how Uzbekistan has been promoting regional security and stability in Central Asia. In the OSCE context, you have taken on a leadership role, in particular by chairing the OSCE’s Economic and Environmental Committee in 2020, and by hosting high-level and expert meetings and events.
Your commitment and leadership are visible through your co-operation with other international organizations. The two events I addressed during my visit – the International Forum organized by UNICEF and the Zamin Foundation led by the First Lady Ziroat Mirziyoyeva, and the EU – Central Asia Connectivity Conference are other examples of that.
– Your previously planned visit to our country was unexpectedly cancelled. Did this situation have a negative impact on the pace of development of mutual relations? What results do you expect from the current visit?
– I was forced to postpone my trip to Tashkent in March due to the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine. My team and I were working around the clock to ensure the safety and security of our mission members in Ukraine, an issue that has been at the top of my agenda ever since then. As much as I was looking forward to coming back to Uzbekistan, it was just not possible at that time.
Sadly, this war has shaken the current security architecture of our region. It continues to bring unspeakable suffering to citizens with negative repercussions being experienced all over the region.
With the support of contributing OSCE participating states an entirely new program has been set up to alleviate the hardship of Ukrainian citizens. But the OSCE is also helping other countries grappling with the effects of the war – including Central Asian countries that are feeling the damaging economic consequences.
I want to reaffirm that Central Asia, and, in particular, Uzbekistan remains high on our agenda. I was very pleased with the meetings I had in Tashkent and Samarkand and impressed with the readiness I have seen at the highest level to promote regional approaches to joint challenges.
The OSCE will remain a strong partner for both government and civil society when it comes to reforms and across the three dimensions – be it on advancing cyber security, developing women’s entrepreneurship across the region or advancing the work of the National Preventive Mechanism against Torture and supporting persons with disabilities. We are at your side.